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Is intimate sex after porn addictions even possible?

That’s what we’re going to look at today. Every Wednesday this blog talks marriage, and today we’re going to tackle something that’s a HUGE problem plaguing many marriages today: pornography.

Perhaps your marriage hasn’t been touched by pornography, and if so, that’s wonderful. But I still encourage you to read on, because porn is so prevalent, and we have to understand it just to help our husbands and sons, as well as our friends who are going through this trauma.

The effects of porn are devastating. Pornography addictions are now one of the largest causes of divorce. Porn is wrecking marriages. It’s also wrecking men’s libidos, and it’s one of the largest causes of men’s reduced sexual interest. In one study I read recently, college aged males were having far less sex with actual people because they were so addicted to porn. Now, of course, I don’t want college aged males to be promiscuous with actual women, either, but the point is that here’s a group that is notorious for sleeping with many partners, and yet they’ve stopped because porn is easier. And once you become addicted to porn, you tend not to want the real thing.

That’s true in marriages, too. Not all marriages experience this, but slowly but surely a man who is addicted to porn becomes less interested in sex with his wife. When he is interested, he tends to want to try more extreme things. And he also has difficulty making love without fantasizing, because what porn has done is rewire his brain to think of images as erotic, as opposed to relationship. Thus, most men who are addicted to pornography cannot actually get aroused without concentrating on a few images in their brains first.

So can your marriage recover from a porn addiction? And can sex after porn ever be intimate again? Let’s look at some steps to real recovery and intimacy.

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Marriage Recovery After Porn Addiction: Rebuilding Intimacy Again

1. Understand that Porn Use Can Be an Addiction 

When men say “it’s got nothing to do with you”, they honestly mean it. Men are wired, much more so than women, to be aroused visually, and so pornography is a huge temptation for them. And it’s so easy to access today. Once they start watching, though, they tend to need more and more to get the initial high that comes with it, in the same way that an alcoholic needs more and more drinks to feel tipsy.

It does change the chemical balance in the brain, and it is an honest to goodness addiction for many men. That doesn’t mean it can’t be broken; it’s just that many men WANT to break it, but don’t know how. They feel great shame about it, in the same way that an alcoholic feels shame.

If your husband has a porn addiction, you’re going to be angry when you learn. You’ll feel disgusted, ashamed, and probably a little vengeful. That’s only natural. But when you calm down, try, as much as you can, to also feel a bit of sympathy. Listen to your husband’s heart. If he is repentant, but doesn’t know how to stop, then help him. If he isn’t repentant, then lay down some pretty firm rules and an ultimatum. A marriage can’t survive a porn addiction long-term. It is cheating, whether he admits it or not. He may not think of it that way, but it is stealing his sexual interest from you, and it is undermining the whole basis for your marriage.

2. Help end the Porn Addiction.

You need to take some action to end the addiction. It would be nice if he could stop all on his own, but it’s rarely that easy. We don’t ask an alcoholic to stop drinking when there is still a ton of alcohol in the house. In the same way, your husband can’t just stop his porn addiction without removing the internet lure.

Covenant EyesSo either drop the internet temporarily altogether, or get filters installed. Talk to him about this. He may be leery at first, but make it clear that if he wants to stay in the marriage, he needs to take these steps. And please, try to do it in a loving way. I know you’re angry, but if you blame him and lecture him you’ll just drive him away. How much better to tell him instead that you want to work towards rebuilding your sex life, and making it satisfying for both of you. You want to achieve true intimacy. You want your marriage to be rich and close and beautiful, and this is the first step towards that.

And often that means involving a third party. Here’s a response by a former porn addict on how he managed to quit–and advice for wives in that same situation.

3. Do not be his Accountability Partner

Most men will need some sort of an accountability partner to recover from this, similar to a buddy that people are matched with in AA. You can’t be that partner, because he can’t be honest with you if he’s tempted again.

Churches need to go out of their way to start accountability groups for men in this area. We need to step up to the plate, and if you can grab the pastor’s ear and suggest it, then do so. Encourage your husband to find a godly man that can hold him accountable. Some computer programs can automatically send an email to someone of your choice if you go onto a questionable website, so that the partner can literally monitor his web use.

Be aware, too, that he likely will fall in the initial period. It’s very hard to break an addiction, and he’ll be moody, twitchy, and angry. He can’t be perfect overnight. And occasionally he’s going to fall, whether it’s at work where he still has internet access or when he’s in a hotel or something. If he does fall, he’s going to feel even worse.

Have you ever tried really hard to lose weight? Or quit some food that you don’t want to eat anymore? It’s hard. And remember how awful you feel when you grab one and stuff it down? This feels way worse. Remember that just because he falls does not mean that he isn’t still moving in the right general direction. If he remains committed to breaking the addiction, then forgive him. And encourage him to talk to an accountability partner about it.

And if he won’t seek an accountability partner? I’d really question his commitment to seeking porn. If he is truly sorry, then he will want to get help. Sometimes, of course, getting accountability is hard because it may endanger your job if you confess. If your husband is in ministry, or on the mission field, and is addicted to porn, here are some more thoughts that can help.

4. Rebuild your sex life–it is possible to have great sex after giving up porn!

Here’s the hard part. Pornography, fantasy, and masturbation go hand in hand. For males, you rarely have one without the other. So if a man tells you that he’s addicted to pornography, it also means that he fantasizes and that he masturbates. It’s gross to think about it, I know, but it’s true.

To get out of that cycle so that his physical desire is channelled towards you again is often a very long process. Understand that from the outset. Rediscovering intimate sex after porn is not going to be an easy road, but it is one you can travel together.

First, you have to give him the freedom to be honest with you. If you want to rebuild intimacy, he needs to be free to tell you when it’s not working. Because pornography rewires the brain and tells a man that what is arousing is an image rather than a person, many men actually experience impotence without external stimulation (the images they’re used to seeing). So many men, in order to have sex with their wives, start imagining and fantasizing about those images.

That may be a shock to some of you, and I’m truly sorry. This is such a difficult thing, I know, but remember that God can help you get through anything.

You need to leave room for God to work, though, and show your husband forgiveness and grace, because most men who are recovering truly do want to get better. It’s just very difficult for them. They’re scared that they’ll never be able to really have sex again without the pornography.

So make a plan that you want to help him get reacquainted with true intimacy. Spend some time, perhaps a week or so or however long it takes, not actually making love. Lie naked together and get used to touching each other again. Look into his eyes. Let him experience the erotic nature of just being so close to someone he loves. Take baths together. Explore each other, and take things very slowly so that he can see that he can become aroused just by being with you. If you try to go too fast, you can push him into fantasy again in order to “complete the deed”. Instead, spend some time letting him discover that he can become aroused once again by being with you. But this is much easier if there’s no pressure, and if you spend a lot of time just being together naked, talking, kissing, and exploring.

31 Days to Great SexMy book 31 Days to Great Sex can help with this, because I confront the dangers of pornography head on and explain how it changes the libido. And then I provide exercises that you can build on, little by little, step by step, over the course of a month so that you do start to feel more intimate again.

Usually when we think of rebuilding sex lives we think that we have to somehow compete with pornography. We want to be so arousing that he won’t need it anymore, and so we go the lingerie route, or we decide to try new things. That actually feeds into his addiction, because what he really needs is to experience the sexual high that comes from relational and spiritual intimacy, and not just from visual arousal or fantasy. It’s not that you can never wear lingerie again; it’s just that in the initial recovery period, the aim is not to be “porn lite” in your marriage; it’s to help him channel his sexual energy in a different direction: towards you. If you try to just act out pornography, you actually encourage him to keep those fantasies in his head alive, and you do nothing to retrain his brain.

So take things slowly, and let him know that if he needs to take a break because his mind is wandering, it’s okay for him to tell you that. You’d rather he be honest so that he can get his heart and head right and start again.

Rebuilding sex after porn means spending a lot of intimate time together, perhaps reading Psalms, or Song of Solomon, while lying together. I know that sounds corny, but honestly, when you are spiritually close, the sexual feelings often follow. One of the sexiest things you can actually do together is to pray, because it is so intimate. And it’s the kind of intimate that is the exact opposite of fantasizing, so it helps keep those impulses at bay.

Good Girl's Guide to Great SexBut believe that God can restore your marriage.Throughout this whole process you will need some support to continue showing grace and forgiveness, and to get over your initial revulsion. Talk to maybe one close friend or mentor, but don’t talk to everyone you know, even “in confidence”, because then they will always think of your husband in a certain way.

He can make it even more intimate than it was before. He can take you to new heights together. But it’s a process that takes time, and will inevitably have some setbacks. That doesn’t mean you’re not progressing; just be patient, rely on God, and believe that you can reach the other side together.

My book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, helps couples see the beauty that God intended for sex, and has a big section on how to rebuild intimacy after a porn addiction.

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